4 benefits to learning a language with your romantic partner
It’s always around Valentine’s Day when I think of Adam*. We met in a basic Russian class that we had both started about a month before. Our very traditional professor said that the seats we sat in the first day would be our assigned seats for the rest of the semester, and Adam happened to sit next to me. We were both eager to see how far we could take our first attempts at learning Russian.
What I didn’t realise at the time, however, was that after four weeks of pair conversation in class, mutual fear that our professor would call on one of us Severus Snape-style to give the correct answer, and casual meetups to do homework, on Valentine’s Day he would (at the end of a long Sunday afternoon study session at the library) hand me a small, white envelope with my name written in Cyrillic on it.
Inside was a simple white card on which in careful, if slightly unsure, cursive Cyrillic he’d copied out Pushkin’s famous poem, Я помню чудное мгновенье…. I stayed up all night translating that poem, and we ended up dating for nearly 3 years.
What I look back on now is not just the fond memories of a university romance, but what I actually took away from it — both from a language perspective, and a relationship perspective, too. The whole experience taught me that learning a language — and learning it together — has some real benefits to a relationship, and it could be the best thing you can do with a special someone.
It’s about showing up and doing the work.
There’s a lot of research out there that says accountability is an important part of successfully reaching a goal. When you’re learning a language, this is especially true. You have to “show up and do the work”, as my mom always likes to say. Whether that showing up is opening up an app, going to a class or meetup, or making the effort to practise with your partner, you need to make the effort.
But with that effort comes togetherness. “My boyfriend and I were both sinking into this habit of coming home from work and vegetating in front of Netflix together. We were spending time together, no doubt, but we weren’t really engaging each other either. When his boss said he needed to improve his German for work, I decided I should take some action about my still untouched goal of improving my German, too. We ended up studying it together as a project, and we really helped each other through the tough spots. That it might sometimes get difficult or frustrating wasn’t as important as the idea that we were actually talking to each other and having a fun time practising conversations, quizzing vocabulary, and even getting a little competitive, too,” says Jeanette*, a Berlin-based software engineer from Australia.
Having someone that is just as invested in your success as you are in theirs makes a world of difference, especially when you’re feeling less than motivated. You’ll feel like you accomplished something together — and that’s really something worth showing up for.
Communication keeps it alive.
When you’re learning a language, both passive and active learning activities are important. Just reading or listening will only get you so far — which is why strategies like self-rehearsal (rehearsing for a situation in a language in the mirror, for example) or role plays (if you’re lucky enough to have a study partner) are so important for putting things into action.
But what you’re actually training with these activities isn’t necessarily exact phrases. It’s about communicating in such a way that you get your point across to the best of your ability.
Romantic relationships are no different. “When you stop talking to each other, that’s when it starts to break down”. At least that’s what my friend Rob’s grandmother always told him. I’m inclined to agree.
Psychologists say that breakdowns in communication are one of the top reasons why relationships go south. Rob and his partner were planning a trip to Paris, and they both kind of regretted that they’d never followed up on their four years of “school” French. So they decided to see how much they could polish it up in time for them to have a more meaningful trip come their anniversary. “What I didn’t expect is that all these conversations that we were trying to have weren’t just empty phrases for practice, but we were talking about ‘us’. It really made me feel closer to him”.
Which brings us to the next point…
Saying how you feel.
Learning is an emotional activity. We have to face challenges, uncertainty, and maybe even insecurity. But we also get satisfaction, a sense of fulfilment, and self-assuredness in return.
Learning a language is loaded with even more feelings, since we tend to associate the emotional aspects of the words and concepts we’re learning with our real-life experiences. Deliberately making your language learning an emotional process may even help you remember and apply what you’ve learned.
Talking about romance in another language could help you not only break some ice or get closer to someone, but it can also help you discover a more romantic side of yourself, too. Todd reminisces about how his learning Spanish during high school helped him start thinking about approaching girls for the first time:
I was too young and insecure, but the fact that the subject was broached — through the verb and its conjugation and application — was one of the first times that engaging in romance was brought up and encouraged, so I went on the trip [to Spain] with a different mental framework. It was the first time I ever seriously considered any romantic possibilities for myself. While some people believe French is the “language of love”, I will forever associate romantic love with Spanish.
If it’s not your first time with romance, it can definitely add a new aspect of fun and emotional communication by giving you chances to practise flirting with your partner, adding to that feeling of togetherness.
Confidence is key.
Confidence is a big factor in language learning. Those who have at least some of it tend to progress more quickly because they’re more likely to actually put what they’ve learned into practice, and less likely to dwell on small mistakes or feelings of embarrassment or doubt.
Learning in a supportive and motivating environment is key to overcoming any feelings of shyness about being yourself in another language. If you’re learning with a loved one who makes you feel encouraged, secure, and helps motivate you past the fear of mistakes, that will have a marked effect on your progress, both individually and together as a learning pair.
The language of love is unlimited.
So as you can guess by now, I learned a lot from my relationship with Adam — a lot of Russian together, and a lot about what it means to learn a language with someone who might be cut out to be the best-matched study buddy you can find.
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*Names have been changed